Senegal: Right to peaceful protest and freedom of expression must be respected amid crackdown on dissent
The Senegalese authorities must protect the right to peaceful protest and ensure the security forces refrain from using excessive force as anti-government demonstrations are planned today in the capital Dakar, Amnesty International said.
Activists and opposition parties are due to hold a demonstration outside Parliament against proposed changes to the Electoral Code and Constitution that, if passed, would require all candidates standing in next year’s presidential election to collect the signatures of one per cent of the registered voters in seven regions of the country before being validated. The authorities announced that the protest had been unauthorized on several grounds including a 2011 decree banning all assemblies in the city centre areas.
“Peaceful opposition protests in Senegal have previously been arbitrarily banned and met with unnecessary, excessive force by the police. The authorities must remember that peaceful protest and freedom of expression are human rights that must be respected,” said François Patuel, Amnesty International West Africa researcher.
“That means anyone protesting in a peaceful manner must be allowed to do so without the threat of violent retribution from the security forces. A heavy-handed crackdown on demonstrations would only serve to fuel political tensions.”
The proposal has sparked a fierce public debate with some opposition and activist groups, including the prominent youth movement Y’en a Marre (Fed-up), considering the revision a violation of the Constitution.
Amnesty International has previously documented several cases where security forces have used unnecessary and excessive force to arbitrarily ban and disperse peaceful assemblies in Senegal. In June 2017, security forces shot and injured two women, and beat several others, during a protest in the city of Touba against the ill-treatment of a 14-year-old boy by members of a religious association, often described as the “religious police”.
In July 2017, security forces used tear gas and batons to repress a peaceful demonstration organized by former President and opposition leader Abdoulaye Wade.
The authorities also continue to curtail freedom of expression and target artists, journalists, human rights defenders and political activists who express dissent. On 17 April 2018, Barthélémy Dias, opposition leader and mayor of Mermoz-Sacré-Cœur, a neighbourhood of Dakar, was sentenced to six months in prison for “contempt of court” and a fine of CFA 100 000 (approximately EUR 150) after he criticized the decision of the court to sentence opposition leader and Mayor of Dakar Khalifa Sall. Sall’s sentence of five years in prison and a fine of 5 million CFA (7600 EUR) for charges of fraud of public funds raised questions about the independence of the judiciary.
Published on Amnesty International on April 18, 2018
By Tom Miles
Nineteen U.S. states have introduced bills that would curb freedom of expression and the right to protest since Donald Trump's election as president, an "alarming and undemocratic" trend, U.N. human rights investigators said on Thursday.
Concerns for free speech in the United States have risen in part because of the Republican Trump's antagonistic relations with prominent U.S. media, which he has branded "the enemy of the American people" as it has reported on policy missteps and dysfunction in his administration.
The push for stricter laws on expression has come as Trump's liberal foes have pursued public protest against his policies on issues ranging from immigration to abortion and climate change.
Maina Kiai and David Kaye, independent U.N. experts on freedom of peaceful assembly and expression respectively, said in a statement that the state bills were incompatible with international human rights law.
"The trend also threatens to jeopardize one of the United States’ constitutional pillars: free speech," they said in a statement, calling for action to reverse such legislation.
“From the Black Lives Matter movement, to the environmental and Native American movements in opposition to the Dakota Access oil pipeline, and the Women’s Marches, individuals and organizations across (American) society have mobilized in peaceful protests,” Kiai and Kaye said.
They said it was their fundamental right to do so, but that bills in Republican-governed states like Indiana, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan and Missouri sought to stop them exercising that right.
The civil rights movement known as Black Lives Matter has been fueled by a series of shootings of unarmed black men by white U.S. police officers that triggered national protests.
The U.N. experts' statement came a day after they criticized Russia's treatment of peaceful protesters who took to the streets following allegations of corruption against Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
The U.S. State Department had also criticized Russia's handling of those protests, calling them an affront to democratic values.
Supporters of the U.S. state legislative action say it sums up the frustration some people feel about protests that get in the way of daily lives, and reflects a wish to maintain public safety. Free speech advocates say the bills are worrying, seeing them as opening the way to criminalizing peaceful protests.
The U.N. experts said several bills proposed in Colorado, North Dakota and Oklahoma targeted opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota and would have "a chilling effect on environmental protesters".
Last month dozens of armed U.S. law enforcement officers swept through a protest camp near the site of the pipeline, clearing the gathering that for months served as a base of opposition to the multi-billion-dollar project.
In Missouri a bill proposed a seven-year prison term for "unlawful obstruction of traffic", while the Minnesota bill would criminalize peaceful protesters for participating in demonstrations that subsequently turned violent.
The U.N. experts said there was no such thing as a violent protest, only violent protesters. "One person’s decision to resort to violence does not strip other protesters of their right to freedom of peaceful assembly," Kaye and Kiai said.
Published on Reuters' website on March 31, 2017.
A civil right is an enforceable right or privilege, which if interfered with by another gives rise to an action for injury. Examples of civil rights are freedom of speech, press, and assembly; the right to vote; freedom from involuntary servitude; and the right to equality in public places. Discrimination occurs when the civil rights of an individual are denied or interfered with because of their membership in a particular group or class. Various jurisdictions have enacted statutes to prevent discrimination based on a person's race, sex, religion, age, previous condition of servitude, physical limitation, national origin, and in some instances sexual orientation.
Source: Cornell University Law School